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Plea deal has final arena fraud defendant paying $21K restitution to Bloomington taxpayers

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BLOOMINGTON (HOI) - A former top executive of the taxpayer-owned indoor sports arena in Downtown Bloomington paid almost $21,000 to the city government on Friday after his guilty plea to a misdemeanor theft charge.

Bart Rogers, 50, of Morton was the last of five defendants awaiting trial for a scam that investigators said defrauded Bloomington taxpayers of 100's of thousands of dollars.

Rogers is currently an owner and chief operating officer of the Peoria Rivermen, according to the hockey team's website.

Indictments were handed up in 2017 against Rogers and four other executives of Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM), which the city hired to run U.S. Cellular Coliseum, now called Grossinger Motors Arena.

The plea agreement between Rogers and prosecutors came five months after CIAM President John Butler pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and repaid the city about $430,000.

In return for Rogers guilty plea, the McLean County State's Attorney's Office dismissed 14 felony charges against Rogers. There's no jail sentence or probation time, but Rogers was ordered to pay $20,500 restitution to the city.

"After four years of court dates, tens upon tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and expenses fighting for my rights, it was time to put closure on this whole ordeal without going through not one but two trials," said Rogers in a statement released to the news media.

"The mental and physical toll that this has taken on myself and family is unbelievably great and these four years, I can never get back," Rogers also said.

The misdemeanor charge to which Rogers has been convicted centered on the transfer of city funds to Illinois Pro Sports, which owned the Bloomington Thunder hockey team. Rogers was a managing partner of the team, according to the court document.

Such fund transfers are "standard industry practice," said defense attorney Stephanie Wong, including this particular situation in 2013 when a transfer was needed to pay the hockey club for a pair of home games had to be called off so country music singer Jason Aldean could perform at the arena.

According to Rogers, the city made a $176,000 net profit from the Aldean concerts and the region received $1.2 million economic impact.

Besides Rogers and Butler, two other CIAM executives pleaded guilty, but didn't have to pay restitution. Charges were dismissed against another CIAM official.

Howard Packowitz

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